AIO – HMCLS Chlorinde
The operator took one look at his screen, and turned to get the attention of the surface warfare officer.
‘Sir, I have new contacts, multiple ships bearing 165, extreme range.”
“Are they hostile,” asked the surface warfare officer.
“Negative sir, getting IFF off them now, I make them out to be that replenishment group.”
“Damn,” said the officer. ‘Another fine mess, OK, lets get a signal out to turn them around, we don’t want another cavalcade of slow ships under the guns of those cruisers.”
Captain Moffat was engaged in an old tradition for captains under fire, trying to dodge the fall of shot from the next enemy salvo.
“Starboard ten,” he ordered, the next step in this macabre dance.
The carrier took time to respond to her helm, probably too much time to make much difference in the dodging line. The dodging probably couldn’t hurt, so he gave the orders every few minutes in the hope that the changes in course would make it hard at least for the enemy to plot their course.
So far the crew was holding out very well and he was proud of them. That made it all the more surprising when he heard a cry from the bridge wing, “would you look at that!”
Moffat took two steps to the wing, and then stood transfixed. He saw a ship coming their way, flying a massive flag.
That flag had not been flown since June 24 1916, when a battle squadron of Chlorinde dreadnoughts had done battle with a massive fleet in the western hemisphere alongside their allies of that time. No situation since then had warranted the distinction, until now it would seem. The battle flag was a national flag, over three times the normal size. It flew from the mainmast of the Cumberland, the tail curling languidly as the damaged destroyer turned slowly toward the north and offered battle.
Somewhere deep within that ship a single boiler produced steam for a single shaft. The nameless operators turned the oil fuel valves much further than required to fire the boiler. Black unburnt fuel oil formed a thick, greasy smoke and rushed up the stack. The smoke oozed back from her stack to the south, laying a thin but still obscuring screen between the Gorgon and her pursuers.
“Port ten, make your best speed.”
It was important to take whatever chance this sacrifice might offer. For a war that had until now been very 1960’s, it seemed it was taking a very 1940’s turn this morning. Moffat trained his binoculars on the Chin ships, the second cruiser was altering to starboard, opening her gun arcs. Presumably she would plaster the Cumberland while the first ship continued to dismember Gorgon. Moffat doubted if the damaged destroyer would make it in range to do any damage, the current range at 28,000 yards was 8,000 yards too long for her four 4.5in guns. The speed of the challenge was only 15 knots. Worse, there were a dozen missiles still stored in her midships magazine. They were a dangerous cargo for a thin skinned ship under shell fire.
Another straddle fell about the Gorgon and another shell plunged through the flight deck to burst one deck below the hanger.
The carrier was a sound design. The machinery was widely spaced, boilers, engine, boilers, engine in an alternating configuration. No one hit could cripple her propulsion. She lacked any thick armour plate, but critical systems were protected by thin “splinter plate”, so that anything short of direct hit would do nothing to her steering, communications, power supply or any other key function. The magazines were flooded and anything flammable had burned yesterday or been ditched. The shells would have to take her apart piece by piece.
A waft of smoke amidships signalled a shell induced fire breaking out within the ship. The damage control parties were still organised. The fire would be isolated and then put out. Moffat looked up as the next salvo fell well to port of the ship. Perhaps the oily screen was having some effect on the Chin gunnery?
Flag Bridge – HMCLS Chlorinde
Vice Admiral Buffet considered and then rejected a dozen signals as inappropriate. His Admirals flag might carry the single distinctive ball that signalled the highest naval authority afloat. But three miles away there was passing a navy he had joined and served 30 years ago. And not for the first time, a cunning old sea dog was about to save his bacon, just like he had saved the same man as a midshipman and lieutenant commander from some forgotten mistake many years ago.
Three miles off to port the Drake was passing at a combined speed of 55 knots, three destroyers following in her wake like a clutch of bulldogs trailing their master. The sighting report had electrified the bridge, and for the first few minutes Frank had anticipated a clutch of 17knot oilers stumbling in front of the hungry Chin wolves and adding to the disaster. By the time she had made her number he had already recognised the familiar mast and upper works. He greeted the official signal with a broad grin.
Somehow the signal he wanted came to him while his brain had been 30 years away.
“Yeoman, make to Drake. Enemy in sight bearing north-north west, range 21 miles.”
“To our destroyers, join squadron, Drake in tactical command.
Frank did a quick mental calculation. The speed of the Chin ships would be 30 knots, Drake was making close to 26 knots, or he was a teapot. That was 56 knots of closing speed, or more than a 100,000 yards an hour – 1500 yards a minute. Less than ten minutes to get in range of the heavy guns as long as they didn’t telegraph this haymaker to the enemy.
Quick and to the point, Drakes signal lamp blinked its flickering summons to the four destroyers. They began their turn to the north to join the formation. The junior destroyer turned with a few too many revolutions on and quickly began to fall aboard the next ahead. Her captain was a flyer by profession, a former Scooter squadron CO getting in his three ring command time in the surface fleet. The aviator remedied the situation by executing a messy fishtail, a workmanlike solution for an aviator but hardly in the best traditions of the navy. The manoeuvre involved a gentle turn to starboard, to port and then to starboard again, the turn bleeding off speed and the extra distance allowing her to fall into station
There was smiles all around the Chlorindes bridge as Drakes signal light, even in the midst of impeding battle flickered its admonition to the errant destroyer keep better station.
Jim Warren aboard the Minotaur was in the flying bridge, along with the other pilots senior enough to force their way in to the limited space. He heard the sudden gasp of appreciation and lifted his binoculars once again. The result was that he got to witness the second breaking out of a battle ensign in the navy for fifty years. The sight of the battleship running down the enemy was something to remember for the rest of his life.
Chin surface group
Po was beginning to feel some frustration. The impertinent destroyer ahead had just fired its first broadside – a puny challenge but one that she should not have survived to make. They had counted four six inch hits on her so far. As he watched a rain of shells straddled the ship. He saw a small explosion on her port quarter. Seconds later a much larger explosion blew apart the stern of the ship in a shattering blast.
The flash of explosion outlined pieces of debris or worse from ten miles away. The flash was replaced by smoke. When it finally cleared all they could see was the bow of the destroyer settling quickly into the still angry sea.
Soon both ships were back in action firing on the crippled enemy carrier. Their own poor shooting was disappointing but understandable in newly commissioned ships – it was the carriers impressive resistance that was surprising the Chin Admiral. For the next few minutes things seem to right themselves. Some weird chance saw a half dozen shells hit the damaged carrier at almost the same instant, and the officers in the conning tower were so engrossed in the effect of their own firepower that they almost missed the loud ripping noise. Eight tall columns of water erupted around their own leading cruiser, the last shell splash of the lot obscuring the view between them and the target Carrier.
Po scurried back to the bridge with the other officers. His binoculars took a time to scan the horizon – there was nothing, he was looking too close. Po lifted his field of view. There was a grey shape at very long range. Two, no four gun turrets – a tower bridge! The Chlorinde recognition silhouettes flashed though his mind, or at least those of 1956. The word battleship formed in his head at the same moment eight flashes in the distance indicated a second incoming broadside.
The bridge had so far been spared all but splinter damage. Moffat knew it couldn’t last. That last multiple blow had wrought some havoc deep bellow inside the ship. The carriers speed was noticeably falling. Most likely one or other of the boiler rooms had been rendered asunder by a bursting shell.
The navigator called, ‘Captain, can you come to the air search radar repeater?”
Moffat thought it a strange request, but could think of no reason not to go. He put his head to the hood and made out what the navigator had been talking about. A tight cluster of reflections moving fast – supersonic speed really. They passed their ships position 3 miles east and continued towards the Chin cruisers. The shells closed with the reflection, almost unerringly.
They were not missiles, nor aircraft. Shells by god! He went to the bridge wing and waited ten seconds for the shell splashes to appear. The size of them was startling, he quickly turned on reciprocal bearing and immediately made out Drake five miles away. Some lookout his ship was keeping! He remembered a ship being reported a few minutes ago, but didn’t have time then to act on it.
Mathers was acutely conscious of the relatively untrained state of his crew. He had drilled them thoroughly and praised them frequently but nothing could alter the fact that it took two years to get a ship like this in tip top fighting condition. At the top of his mind for working up the ship in the shortest period of time was to have a simple effective drill for every evolution. The ship had an overwhelming preponderance of force. If they avoided mistakes the business would be done in fifteen minutes.
He had armour piercing shells in the magazines. The Army wanted exclusively high explosive shells aboard the ship to improve her bombardment ability. Mathers had argued that bombers delivered high explosive better than his guns ever would. What he could offer was armour piercing shells to burst deep within concrete pill boxes and fortifications. So it was when the “load, load load” order passed to the guns the 1400lb armour piercing ballistic capped shells were hoisted to the muzzles and were rammed home.
Mathers did a quick mental calculation. These cruisers carried between 4 to 6 inches of armour in the belt and two to three inches on the deck. It was about one third to one half calibre penetration then. He didn’t have to fear his shells entering one side of the target and passing out the other.
The guns had an elevation of 30 degrees, and a range of 32,000 yards. His main gunnery radar was X band. That was the same as the destroyers sets. Mathers saw no harm to his tactical surprise in illuminating it. That gave him an accurate range count, and the range steadily dropped as they watched the punishment taken by the carrier with dismay, and the heartrending explosion of the brave Cumberland on the horizon. They tried to raise Gorgon with signals and TBS radio without success.
Mathers watched the range trickle down. He decided on a long range shoot. It was easy to be confident of their guns accuracy, and the Chin ships would need thousands of yards to turn away at this speed. Maximum range would do nicely. There was nothing destroyers could do at the moment. The captain signalled via light to the now quite large flotilla manoeuvre independently, remain clear of the line of fire. The guns elevated and trained as one toward the leading target. There would be nothing fancy, no split engagement of two targets, just simple eight gun broadsides at a rate of one a minute till the job was done. Then he would change target. A small party of men were running across the bridge, lowering the armoured glass of the bridge windows. 33,000 yards was announced and the captain ordered the 30 degree turn needed to open the arcs of X and Y turret. Mathers had a target indication sight on the bridge, aiming it informed the director which ship he wanted to be engaged first. The last act for the captain was to take up the navy phone and raise the director.
“Fire when your ready, guns.”
Moffat took a quick look around the bridge to ensure his lookouts were watching every quarter of the sea, rather than the enemy. They were, of course. He then turned to the target and waited.
The first broadside roared out – followed by a 55 second flight time and a forest of splashes about the target. One shot one straddle they could do these last fifteen years with the help of the radar. The proportion of hits in a straddle was more random but still controllable for good gunners. One minute and ten seconds after the first broadside the second joined it. This was much more satisfactory, seven splashes and one hit right on the enemy foscle. The next broadside was a straddle, and the next after that two hits.
The enemy cruiser had shifted target to the new threat, and began a slow turn away. For whatever reason their guns fell silent after the double hit. The next broadside saw a hit disappear into the cruiser aft. The sixth broadside had two hits dead amidships at a range of 27,000 yards. The target ship began to slow; there was a clearly discernable red glow amidships, the sign of internal fires within her.
The captain was unable to give the order to shift target to the second cruiser before the seventh broadside was got off, another straddle. That second enemy ship, undisturbed at this point was steadily walking its six inch shells towards them. In theory the bridge team should duck into the conning tower at this point. But they never did in the old days and they wouldn’t do it now if Mathers had anything to say about it. He had a modern action information centre, a valuable tactical aid but not required for this simple situation. He fought his ship from the bridge.
This time firing on the second cruiser they got a hit with the first broadside, range 26,500 yards. The battleship and the second enemy cruiser were steering parallel courses to the east as the Drake followed the Chin cruisers turn. They got a straddle and then a double hit with the next two broadsides. Broadside four did for the second cruiser with a mammoth internal explosion. No living man would ever know what happened when the shell made its way into the after magazine of the enemy ship and a conflagration of hundreds of tons of explosives and propellent wracked through the enemy ships stern.
Fire was shifted to the first target again, as it wallowed through the water at low speed, burning fiercely. The next broadside caught the remaining cripple, though a loading casualty cost them two shots out of the broadside from A turret. One of the six shells added to the trauma aboard the burning and crippled target. Four more broadsides saw five hits, before the siren signalled cease fire. Four guns were fired to clear the breech; it was no more than five minutes after cease fire when the order was piped to swab through the guns.
Chester Palace - Minerova
For the sea officers present, the state of their first class dress uniforms was a cause of concern. All officers were req uired to have one. For the younger officers the problem was the fit. First class uniforms bought years ago were mostly too loose for frames thinned by hard months at sea. Mathers was unconcerned, his disciplined body had maintained a constant weight for 15 years and the uniform fit him perfectly. Unfortunately the uniform was of the preceding style. The cuffs and collars of his dress shirt were at the very margins of the Captains very high standards of personal appearance.
The officers mingled nervously in an anti room to the audience chamber. A royal summons was not a frequent even in most careers. Fidgeting with your sword was a tempting distraction. It was also much frowned upon by the senior officers who insisted that swords were not for fidgeting. Vice Admiral Buffet was mildly amused by the discomfort of this selection of his very best men. Nevertheless he edged away from the group and lost himself once again in reflection.
The process of investigation and analysis had proceed quickly upon the fleets entry into harbour. Gorgon made her way into harbour 30 hours after the rest of the fleet. She entered the new graving dock and stopped her ships pumps for the first time in four days. The other carriers, Chlorinde and Minotaur went alongside for re storing and essential repairs. The chief of staff had been adamant, leaving the whole task force in harbour presented a too tempting target to their enemies. Accordingly the two carriers made their way out to sea in days where they were joined by the newly recommissioned Centaur.
Already two of the slow carriers were at sea, Majestic and Melbourne. Both were armed with a set of four nuclear bombs. For the time being, the country and the alliance would continue with a two arm deterrent, bombers ashore and carriers at sea.
The carrier task force left harbour without their vice admiral and a new captain aboard Minotaur. Rear Admiral Page had been scheduled to take over the fleet from Frank about now, when the chief of staff retired and Frank was promoted to take his place. Now the chief of staff had been offered and accepted a two year extension of term. Frank remembered the painful conversation with his friend and long time boss.
He had been told that leadership at this level was primarily about people. Picking the wrong man to command Minotaur and then supporting him in spite of contrary evidence and advice was a major hole in his performance as fleet commander. His tactical handling of the fleet had been sound, but one mistake was too many at this level. Frank would continue as Fleet Commander ashore until Page received his promotion to Vice Admiral in a few months. He would then step aside to head the new training command. His sea time was up, it was now time to take his medals and subside gently into the background and history books.
The call of the major domo broke that chain of thoughts. The officers formed up by seniority as they were lead in to the audience chamber. Frank went first and took his DSC from the prince regent. He then stood and presented his officers to the prince.
Mathers went first, and to the surprise of all save three or four in the room was told to kneel and receive a knighthood. There were only three living military knights left alive in the kingdom. Officers signalled out for valour in the great war who were colonels or higher at the time of their actions. Civil knights there were a plenty, though fewer even of them at the moment. The ribbon and star suited the captain and his out of fashion uniform.
Next was the presentation of a James cross posthumously to the captain of the Cumberland. Some on the political side had argued that the medal should go to all the crew. The prime minister had stepped in a supported the navies tradition. The medal was presented pinned to a small cushion and was handed to the late captains wife. She was led away from the presence, jaw quavering.
Ships officers were relatively thin on the ground amongst the recipients. The modern war sat the majority of the key officers deep in the bowels of the escorts, where their contributions were vital but hardly sparkling with individual glory. There were a few destroyer captains who defended their ships from air attack to get DSO’s, before they reached the fliers. These men were in a better position for individual distinction. Jim warren was senior and had four confirmed air to air kills and two probables to back his precedence. Two weeks leave awaited and then appointment developing tactics and doctrine for the navies new supersonic multi role combat aircraft. Jim took his medal ahead of 7 other naval fliers who had distinguished themselves in the weeks of war.
That brought the formal part of the levee to a close. The prince mingled amongst the officers for half an hour. He was a skilled conversationalist, with a talent developed by long practice for breaking downs peoples reservations and making them feel comfortable. It was a mostly jovial party of officers that left the levee. Frank went last, smiling faintly to him self. The Chin were in a difficult position, there ability to attack Chlorinde was limited to scarce ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads.
Chlorinde was reacting by deploying strategic assets so as to retain their advantage. The carriers would operate in secure areas, maintaining a deterrent and working themselves up to top efficiency. With 5 useable ships at the moment they could keep at least three at sea for the next months. The dispersed bomber bases were being extended, developed and hardened.
The only offensive arms at the moment were tactical fighter attacks on the shattered remnants of Chin forces on Fawsaw, as well as submarine attacks on trade well to the north. An Army colonel was training cadres and stockpiling simple and reliable weapons. He had a series of bright ideas about landing teams and weapons from submarines on previously independent islands now controlled by the Chin.
The war had settled into a stalemate, for now.